Aftermath of Belfast rape trial verdicts

 

Sir, – A major reason for the degree of interest in the Belfast rape trial has to be the fact that so many of us have boys who play sport. As a mother of a 13-year-old sportsman I am disturbed and appalled to think I may be ushering him into a culture of male entitlement and toxic attitudes towards women. I see it starting with comments boys at his age make to each other and on social media about girls – and what we saw in Belfast is the natural extension of this.

The major sporting bodies – GAA, IRFU, FAI need to step up and take responsibility for this culture in their games and clubs.

I would love to see them develop some kind of workshops aimed at 12- to 15-year-old boys and girls to discuss behaviour and language in their interactions with each other. If these workshops were led by sportsmen and women they know and look up to, it would go a long way towards nipping the toxic attitudes in the bud.

These workshops should be rolled out across the country to all clubs, and parents encouraged to be involved. We all need to step up.

I love sport, and my son dreams of being a professional rugby player some day. But I never want to find myself in the position of Paddy Jackson’s mother. – Yours, etc,

JENNY ROCHE,

Moycullen,

Co Galway.

Sir, – It is saddening that Brian O’Brien (Letters, March 29th) is concerned only with “the adverse effects, publicity, professional and reputational damage, and loss of sponsorship and earnings (which) must have taken toll”.

The interchange of text messages between the accused is the factor which will damage them professionally and potentially result in loss of earnings and sponsorship.

It is worth reflecting on the reputational damage caused to the victim, who has been identified and reviled on social media.

ANN FETTON,

Lismore,

Co Waterford.

Sir, – I read with anger Brian O’Brien’s comments (Letters, March 29th) about the four rugby players’ potential loss of earnings and sponsorship deals.

If this is an outcome it will not be due to the original accusation, but due to the deep misogyny revealed in their private text messages. Referring to women as quite literally a piece of meat – a “spit roast,” to be exact – is something that leaves a bad taste in many people’s mouths, and instils fear into many more. There does not need to be a criminal conviction to establish that these are not men who should be representing Ireland.

Trying to stay safe or even feel safe in a country where sexual violence is effectively legal is the true “enormous toll” we should be talking about. We have the highest suicide rate of young women and girls in the EU, and the highest rate of post-natal depression in the OECD. One in 10 Irish women and girls will experience rape in their lifetime, almost half will experience sexual assault. Marital rape was not a crime in this country until 1990, and in 28 years, with hundreds of women contacting Women’s Aid each year, there have been just four convictions. We are not taught consent in school and many children and young people are left with online porn as the only teacher of what is acceptable sexual behaviour.

It is important to point out that, as well as women, children and people with intellectual disabilities in Ireland need to understand that they will be believed if they experience abuse.

Our culture historically of ignoring and covering up the trauma of victims while protecting the accused endangers our most vulnerable, who are quietly watching and reading the same headlines, hearing the same radio and absorbing this same culture that victims are not to be trusted and that safety from sexual violence and misogyny is much less of a concern than potential losses of earnings from sponsorship deals. – Yours, etc,

ÁINE KAVANAGH,

Co Leitrim.

Sir, – At the recent trial at Belfast Crown Court, Frank O’Donoghue QC for Stuart Olding said in his closing submission, “Why didn’t she scream?”, telling the jury there were “middle-class girls downstairs – they were not going to tolerate a rape or anything like that”. Was the learned gentleman suggesting that only “middle-class girls” possess a moral compass? – Yours, etc,

WLADEK GAJ,

Firhouse,

Dublin 24 .

Sir, – The recent rape trial in Belfast has provided an insight into the misogynistic objectification of women which is the basis for male status and prestige among rugby players (“Rugby players on trial are ‘braggarts not rapists’, court hears”, March 21st). Is this the kind of culture which facilitates a nuanced understanding of consent? – Yours, etc,

Prof PAT O’CONNOR,

Professor Emeritus

Sociology and Social Policy,

UL,

Limerick.

Sir, – The toxic masculinity and lad culture which hallmark rugby remain intact. The spoils of victory remain the same as they have ever been throughout the ages. – Yours, etc,

PATRICIA MULKEEN,

Ballinfull, Sligo.

Sir, – In light of the WhatsApp “conversations” revealed in the Belfast rape trial, it’s time to rewrite the old saying that “rugby is a game for thugs played by gentlemen”. – Yours, etc,

KARL MARTIN,

Bayside,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – I hold the view that the only people properly qualified to comment on a trial are people who have attended the proceedings in full.

However, one reported comment made by Frank O’Donoghue QC for the defence struck me as extraordinary: he referred to the presence “of a lot of middle class girls”, who were downstairs. I’m not sure what the inference is: had they been working class, or upper class, they would have been more likely to tolerate a bit of rape, but being middle class they wouldn’t have put up with that kind of thing?

This surely ranks with the remark by the prosecution in the Lady Chatterley trial about it being a book that you might not wish even your wife or servants to read. So much for thinking those days were past. – Yours, etc,

EOIN DILLON,

Mount Brown,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – There are always three sides to every story and the trial that finished in Belfast is no exception.

There is the version of events from the defence; followed by a totally different version of events from the prosecution. And sitting there between all of this, voiceless in the enormity of it all, is the truth. And let’s be honest, the only people who know the truth, are the people who were there at the time. There are absolutely no winners in this sad case.

I didn’t have a strong opinion on this case either way, however, I can’t help but think that the jury should have been made up equally of men and women.

MELANIE HUNTER,

Greystones, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I note, following the rape trial in Belfast, that the IRFU and Ulster Rugby combined have appointed a review committee to examine the behaviour of two of their registered players, Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

I respectfully suggest that this committee consider the insertion of an “on and off” the pitch good behaviour clause in the contracts of players and that each player, from school to club, attend compulsory ethics and human rights courses approved by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. – Yours, etc,

KEN Mc CUE,

Cultural Planner,

Dublin 7.

A chara, – Among the most jarring aspects of yesterday’s verdict of the Belfast rape trial was the vast contrast between how some men and women reacted the news of the acquittal.

While some of my friends – almost exclusively female – were shocked, devastated or angry, some of my friends – all male – went to make jokes, almost celebratory in tone. Some immediately sought to demean the character of the alleged victim.

This trial has shown that Ireland needs to have a national conversation on sexual assault, and how we treat those involved in these such cases, but I fear that we are not yet ready to have it. – Is mise,

EOIN KEANE,

Co Clare.